The Supreme Court on May 9 canceled the clearance given by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) to the doubling of the railway track between Tinaighat-Castle Rock in Karnataka and Kulem in Goa.
CEC had recommended revoking permission for the railway expansion project, but said the highway expansion could be allowed subject to modifications like expansion of animal corridors and elevated highways in places where animal crossings are frequent.
A bench presided by Justice L Nageswara Rao accepted the recommendations of the SC-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) which in its report dated April 23, 2021 said “that it does not find any justification for the track as it “will destroy the fragile ecosystem of the Western Ghats which is an internationally recognised Biodiversity hotspot and also one of the most important wildlife corridor of the country” and that it “will only be marginally enhancing the capacity of the most inefficient section of the railway network passing through ecologically sensitive and biodiversity rich tiger reserve, two wildlife sanctuaries and a national park”.
The railway line is proposed to pass through 120.8 hectares of protected area in the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary in Goa and 10.4 hectares in Karnataka’s Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary. The ruling is based on the recommendations of a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) that the SC had appointed in September 2020 on this contentious matter after NGO Goa Foundation filed a petition seeking scrapping of the project. The court, however, has allowed the South Western Railway to reapply for clearance.
The order came on a plea by the NGO Goa Foundation.
The Standing Committee of the NBWL had cleared three projects — the doubling of the railway track, the four-laning of the NH 4A from Anmod near the Goa-Karnataka border to Mollem and laying of a 400 kv transmission line from Sangod in Goa to the Karnataka border to help meet Goa’s peak electricity demand of 1192 MW by 2022.
The CEC had recommended revoking permission for the railway expansion project, but said the highway expansion could be allowed subject to modifications like expansion of animal corridors and elevated highways in places where animal crossings are frequent.
With regard to the transmission line, the CEC suggested that the existing 220 KV powerline alignment be utilised to lay a new 400 KV line instead of cutting down fresh forest cover.